There's been a movement across campuses and from the provincial government to become more accountable to students by promoting and measuring student engagement. Student engagement is the result of active and collaborative learning, something that is hard to achieve in a large course such as Introductory Psychology. With 450-700 students per section, we struggle not only with attendance, but with holding our students’ attention during lectures, and encouraging them to actively think about what they are hearing as opposed to trying to write it all down to be “learned” later in their dorm rooms.
To address this problem, we are redesigning PSYC 100 using a blended on-line delivery model. Central to our current approach are the lectures that we use to transmit information to our students. While the transmission model has been the dominant model in higher education for some time, more active, learner-centred models are replacing large lectures. By definition, a learner-centred model requires a more individualized approach. Transmitting material online allows students to go at their own pace, at their own time of day and to review complex concepts and theories as many times as needed. Comprehension checks (interactive games and activities) and discussion forums allow students frequent feedback and direction.
This student-driven approach to learning the material frees us up to use the weekly lecture to actively engage students at a deeper level. No longer bound by a script that must be delivered to each section and covers the basic terminology, theories and empirical evidence, the instructor is now free to pose a provocative question and take the time needed to elicit responses from students, and follow up upon them. Students will not be learning new material per se, but rather learning new ways in which to think about and apply what they have just learned.
In addition to online readings, activities, a discussion forum, and this large weekly lecture, mandatory weekly tutorials will provide students with an opportunity to work through concepts in a small group. The new PSYC 100 will therefore have students coming together two hours per week instead of three; one hour for a lecture and one hour to work though activities in their small learning groups.
These changes to our delivery of PSYC 100 are based upon research which suggests that courses that use a variety of pedagogical approaches including active learning are more successful in meeting learning outcomes than traditional courses that require students to listen to lectures and memorize facts and vocabulary (Mazur, 1997; National Research Council, 2003; Springer, Stanne & Donovan, 1999).
Unfortunately, implementing this change comes at a cost. We are pleased that the Faculty of Arts and Science has supported this project by providing us with the services of an instructional developer who specializes in online course design, with dedicated classroom space for the approximately 80 tutorial sessions per week, and with increased funds for TAs. We will slowly work on acquiring sets of lab materials so that our students can benefit from hands-on opportunities to experience psychological phenomena whether it is using a ‘take-apart’ brain to learn neuroanatomy, wearing prism goggles to experience perceptual phenomena and the brain’s adaptiveness, or measuring psychophysiological changes such as skin conductance and heart rate while they induce anxiety and subsequent relaxation in one another!
Taking advantage of our faculty members’ creativity, as well as educational grants and alumni donations, we hope to develop a rich set of lab activities to promote student engagement in PSYC 100.
References Mazur, E. (1997). Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual, Prentice Hall.
National Research Council (2003). Evaluating and Improving Undergraduate Teaching in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. M. A. Fox & N. Hackerman (Eds.). The National Academies Press
Springer, L., Stanne, M.E and Donovan, S.S. (1999). Effects of small group learning on Undergraduates in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 69, 21-51